I’m married to a thin-skinned, angry man! No matter what issue I share with my husband, he gets defensive and puts things back on me. He blames, shames, and even ridicules me. If I even raise my voice at all at him, he feels attacked. What can I do to help him see my concerns and his part in our problems?
Being “thin-skinned” is a symptom of emotional immaturity. When you’re young, you have no capacity to deal effectively with emotions, particularly frustration, and subsequently have temper tantrums. As you age physically and emotionally, you learn how to manage the situations that give rise to strong feelings. You learn – or should learn – how to tolerate frustration. Things aren’t always going to go the way you’d like and you must learn to handle adversity. You also must learn how to receive critical feedback.
Far too many people haven’t done the emotional work of learning to understand, manage, and express emotions. Your husband appears to be such a man. When feeling hurt, which often occurs when criticized, he lashes out. He cannot tolerate feeling inadequate. Instead of “feeling and dealing,” he gets rid of these vulnerable feelings by projecting them onto you. Sadly, his immature behavior works to temporarily protect himself, but ultimately causes disruption in your relationship.
Being “thin-skinned” also adds more problems to an already troubled relationship. Having a temper tantrum and blaming you is your husband’s way of showing his distaste for the situation. However, his actions create a “crazy cycle” to the relationship. Undoubtedly your head begins to spin when he adds this strain to your marriage and offends you in the process. Additionally, he’s unable to grow from the information you attempted to bring to him in the first place.
Being married to a “thin-skinned” spouse actually is a common problem. I have some strategies that can help you with your husband.
Prepare yourself for a serious conversation with your husband. Before you can expect change, you must be clear within yourself about what change you need. Consider the situation, talk it through with a trusted friend, and be certain of your convictions. Find that solid place within where you “know what you know that you know.”
Invite your husband to talk about your observations. All change begins with a serious, heart-to-heart conversation. Ask your husband simply to listen to you while you share your feelings – not your judgments! Let him know that this critical conversation needs to happen – now or at some point in the near future. It cannot and will not be avoided.
Share your concerns and expectations respectfully. Let your husband know you cannot control his actions, nor would you want to. Reassure him that he can act in any way he chooses, but that in the days ahead, you’ll be working on respecting yourself more fully and this will involve him. Share with your husband that you feel afraid to bring any criticisms to him. Tell him you want to be in a relationship where you can safely share your feelings and concerns, but that at this time, you don’t feel free to do so. Living this way cannot continue.
Share with him what he can expect from you should he fail to listen to and respect your concerns. This is where the going may get tougher. Let him know you’re prepared to take action if he behaves badly. Scripture teaches, “Whoever sows to please their flesh, from the flesh will reap destruction; whoever sows to please the Spirit, from the Spirit will reap eternal life” (Galatians 6:8). You will be sowing to the Spirit by speaking respectfully and expecting respectful behavior in return.
Don’t bite on any dismissive actions. Don’t engage if your husband tries to turn your concerns onto you. Hold firm to your observations and feelings, reiterating that you will expect change in the future and that he should expect to see change in you. Don’t attack or act disrespectfully. Your consistent, clear, and convicting words will make an impact.
Follow through with consequences. Your consequences for “thin-skinned,” immature behavior can start out small – such as letting him know very clearly your feelings – and progress from there. Maintain your clarity and convictions. If his behavior leads to emotional abuse, the consequences could be more severe, such as a temporary separation for the purpose of an ultimate healing reconciliation.
In summary, someone once said, “We teach people how to treat us.” In like manner, we teach people whether or not they can act immaturely around us. We either tolerate and reinforce temper tantrums and “thin-skinned” behavior, or we do not. Immature behavior cannot continue if there is no reinforcement (gain) for it. When temper tantrums, or “crazy cycles” are not tolerated, people grow emotionally. You will have a huge impact on whether or not your husband chooses to grow up.